landing spot. will be interesting to see how he does.
Some of the best uniforms in college football
In the BCS era, only five programs from the non-automatic bid conferences made it into a big bowl game – Utah and TCU each made it twice and are now in Power 5 conferences, Boise State also played in two BCS (and one New Year’s Six) games and usually is one of the best mid-major teams, and NIU, with one BCS bowl appearance, has won its division in the MAC seven straight times. And then there’s Hawaii. After Greg McMackin left the program amid controversy relating to a homophobic slur McMackin used in an interview, Hawaii hired Norm Chow, who proceeded to go a combined 10-36 from 2012 until most of the way through 2015 – he was fired before the season ended by a new athletic director.
Hawaii reached its apex with that undefeated regular season and Sugar Bowl appearance* back in 2007, but the Rainbow Warriors have largely struggled since and are on their third crack at replacing June Jones, who left after that year to coach SMU. That 2007 team was amazing (and has a really well-detailed Wikipedia page, which is something I’m sure Michigan fans can appreciate): UH didn’t play the toughest schedule, but they won six(!) one-score games en route to a 12-win season behind Colt Brennan and Jones’s wide-open Run-and-Shoot offense. Unfortunately, Hawaii is far removed from those days, which seem like a distant memory.
Of course, the recent losing amplifies the underlying existential uncertainty that seems to follow Hawaii around. Their football program was rescued by the Mountain West after the WAC fell apart, but supposedly the unique (mostly financial) challenges of college football’s most remote outpost generate an undercurrent of rumors about the solvency of the program. There haven’t been any indications that the Rainbow Warriors won’t be playing football in the future, though attendance issues and extreme travel costs are cause for concern. Since the program has been around since five decades before Hawaii became a state, it seems unlikely that the program would ever be forced to drop down a division or quit football entirely – but I guess you never know.
*Georgia destroyed them, but still.
[After the JUMP, the scoop on UH]
Ambassador Long Already At Work
Jim Harbaugh called David Long a potential ambassador for the program, and that appears to be coming to fruition already. Five-star CA CB Darnay Holmes hasn't been mentioned much around here, but that's about to change, per 247's Steve Lorenz:
“Michigan is for sure moving up in things," Holmes told Huskers Illustrated analyst Mike Schaefer over the weekend. “Coach Jim Harbaugh is building a monster up there. My best friend David Long is going up there in June. Dylan Crawford is up there. A lot of California guys go up there. That shows Ann Arbor isn’t a bad place to go."
There are a few promising things to note here. Holmes plans to take an official visit to Ann Arbor in the fall. Long is quoted in the article saying Holmes is "like a blood brother," and he's been talking to both Holmes and his father about Michigan. Perhaps most tellingly, Holmes talked up Michigan to a Nebraska reporter.
Lorenz added a report today that provides a new layer of intrigue. Yesterday, Jim Harbaugh contacted Desean Holmes, Darnay's cousin and a 2015 four-star receiver who didn't enroll at San Diego State for personal reasons. Desean could visit soon, and if he winds up at Michigan, Lorenz "strongly believe[s]" that would move Michigan up Darnay's list. Desean could fill a major 2017 need with Chesson and Darboh outgoing and help deliver a five-star corner. Sounds good to me.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the roundup.]
I’ve been mulling this over for a bit and I don’t know it makes for a mailbag question, a separate post or even just a “here are some helpful links Dana” reply but here goes;
How would you guys explain (REALLY explain) college hockey to someone new to the sport? I’m not a complete layman, I follow the team through MGoBlog and even spent a couple summers at Red Berenson camp years ago, but when it comes to Michigan athletics it’s definitely Football, Basketball and Hockey in that order that I follow.
So again, how would you guys explain college hockey to a layman or someone who wanted to know more;
- Conference makeup and where the power in college hockey lies (who is the SEC of hockey, etc) -
- RPI (convenient way to rank all 60 teams or nah?)
- Recruiting (where do US College Hockey players come from I guess…did I mention I’m Canadian?)
Time to break out some bigger headers.
Penn State blew it up, but it needed to blow up [Bill Rapai]
College hockey is a bifurcated sport with two main areas of interest: the East, which consists mostly of New England and the occasional Pennsylvania team, and the West, which is concentrated in Minnesota and Michigan with scattered outposts in Nebraska, Colorado, Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, and elsewhere. There are also a couple of Alaska teams funded largely by the state's desire to have local sports of any variety and two weird outliers: Arizona State just started a program, and Alabama-Huntsville has one for… reasons.
The East is more or less static with some minor movement. From top to bottom:
- Hockey East contains almost all of the big state schools in New England plus various private institutions that fit in for historical reasons. BU and BC are the perennial powers with a rotating cast of other teams who are good enough to make the tournament. UNH and Maine used to be powers but have fallen off a bunch recently. ND joined up and is quickly departing because HE is kind of perfect.
- The ECAC is about half Ivy League schools and half academically respectable schools in upstate New York and environs. Historically they've been a weak league with one bid more often than not, but in recent years surges from Union, Quinnipiac, Yale, and Harvard have seen them lock down high seeds in the national tournament and even a couple of national titles. Sustainability of this surge is in question.
- Atlantic Hockey is a one-bid league that does not offer the full scholarship complement of 18—I think it's 12 for them. They're the Horizon League, basically.
The vast majority of these teams are smack on top of each other. HE and the ECAC are bus leagues in which most weekends see two different teams come to town. AH is a little more spread out with teams in Pittsburgh (Robert Morris, Mercyhurst) and Colorado Springs (Air Force, which wants to be in the same conference as Army and Navy).
The West is now all over the place. There used to be two conferences, the WHCA and CCHA. The CCHA was all the Michigan teams save Tech and everything else in the Midwest. The WCHA was all the Minnesota teams, Wisconsin, North Dakota, and the two Colorado teams. Those conferences split the Alaska teams. The Big Ten blew this all apart a couple years ago, and now:
- The NCHC is more or less the top half of the old WCHA (minus Minnesota and Wisconsin) plus WMU and Miami from the old CCHA. This means they have a couple of major powers and a large number of respectable outfits. They are probably the best conference in college hockey at the moment. They just added Arizona State, an upstart program that just finished its first season.
- The Big Ten is a six-team league consisting of Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Penn State, and Ohio State. It is currently in a down phase since Michigan is in Berenson limbo, Minnesota had an off year, Wisconsin took too long to replace Mike Eaves, and Michigan State spends every day of every year spitting on their rich heritage. Wisconsin is going to get real good real quick here and once Mel Pearson (knock on wood) comes back from Tech, Michigan will also get back to what it was. ND, who will be good as long as Jeff Jackson is around, joins next year.
- The WCHA got stuck with the leftovers from both the CCHA and WCHA. There are some good teams in there, but it's more mid-major than major.
The West is far more spread out than the East. The addition of the Big Ten was deeply controversial, especially in Minnesota, but once Penn State added a program it was a fait accompli.
One benefit of shakeup: the addition of a conference now gives new programs a landing spot. Previously the WCHA and CCHA were both full at 12 teams; new programs eked out an existence as an independent or in the ever-shifting, now-defunct College Hockey America. Many of them failed. Without the Big Ten it's tough to see an Arizona State adding a program. Also, Penn State has been a great success. They just missed the tournament this year and play to a sold-out rink.
I believe hockey is unique amongst NCAA sports in that they select and seed their tournament exclusively by a formula. The Pairwise used to be a complicated pile of factors that overweighted some things (recent games, nonconference schedule) and underweighted others (how good you are at hockey). Elements of it were gradually pared away until the current version, in which there are three factors. One of those, head to head, usually doesn't apply. RPI breaks ties when it disagrees with the other factor, common opponents. So these days with very limited exceptions RPI == Pairwise.
College hockey RPI is okay. They do some home/away weighting that is out of whack with stats and they have a quality win bonus for beating top 20 teams. (This is approximately the top third of D-I.) That latter plus the relative lack of true tomato cans means a lot of the issues basketball RPI has do not apply. The end result makes enough sense that people don't complain about it much.
There is a competing ranking system called KRACH that is more mathematically rigorous but tends to overrate schedule strength; the differences between the two are a lot more muted now that the WCHA, which was by far the best conference before the shakeup, is no longer in its Voltron form.
Teams play 34 or 36 regular season games plus a conference tournament and an NCAA tournament. (You get a couple extra games if you go to Alaska.) Games are usually on Friday and Saturday nights with the occasional midweek or Sunday game. Somewhere between 20 and 28 of these are conference games, depending on the number of teams in each. Conference tournaments generally have a round or two of best-two-of-three matchups and then a single-elimination final 4 (or 5).
TV coverage is poor unless you're Minnesota or Notre Dame. Regional sports networks were generally carry a handful of games. FSN covers every Minnesota game that the BTN does not; NBCSN picked up a bunch of ND games because ND. The Big Ten Network covers a reasonable number. Full coverage is rare, and smaller schools often rely on streaming. Even megapower North Dakota struggles to get TV coverage, with only 4 national games a year ago.
Hockey has a 16-team single elimination tournament held at four regional sites and then a Frozen Four modeled after… well, you know. The Frozen Four is a successful and well-attended event that will draw a full house or something near to it even when it's thousands of miles away from the nearest hockey program. The regionals are half meh and half a disaster.
The meh half is in the East, where the teams are so close together that the NCAA can rotate through a more or less defined collection of mid-sized arenas that will all be reasonably full because at least two fanbases will be right on top of them. Atmospheres are still muted for the most part.
Neutral site college hockey is not well attended [Jason Coller]
The West is the disaster. Michigan has seven college hockey teams and hasn't seen more than one NCAA regional in a decade; instead the committee keeps putting regionals in places like Fort Wayne, St. Louis, and even Omaha, in buildings way too big and with ticket prices way too high. A second West regional is generally in the WCHA footprint, Minneapolis as often as not. These regionals are almost universally attended by marching bands and crickets and are loathed by literally everyone in the college hockey world except a plurality of coaches who either think playing in a tomb gives them a better chance to win or are in the East and therefore don't care.
There have been some rumbles that the NCAA will finally move away from the failed regional model in the next few years, but I'll believe it when I see it. It's a shame, because Yost hosted a couple of regionals a decade ago, and they were insane. So insane that the rest of college hockey got mad and more or less banned campus sites. The leadership of college hockey has failed massively in this department.
On the other hand, college hockey has pioneered most of the rules that the NHL adopted over the course of the past decade. These include no-touch icing*, two refs, and getting rid of two-line passes. The main differences between the NHL and the NCAA that remain are
- fighting is five, a game, and a suspension in college
- there is no goalie trapezoid behind the nets
- five-on-five OT, with shootouts only applicable to conference standings**
- no handpasses, anywhere
- Olympic rinks are allowed
Also you have to wear a full shield.
*[The NCAA had pure no-touch icing until a few years ago, when they went to the same hybrid icing the NHL did.]
**[A game that ends in a shootout is treated as a tie for RPI purposes.]
These days a plurality of players come from the USHL, a "Tier 1" junior league spread throughout the Midwest. The USHL and NAHL, another junior circuit with two main hubs in the upper Midwest and Texas, were about on par until a decade or so ago when USA Hockey created the Tier 1 designation and the USHL went after it. In general this means a higher level of facilities and support for the players. If you believe in point equivalences—ie the idea that a league can be judged by how well its players' scoring translates to higher leagues—USHL to AHL/NHL point transitions are more or less on par with the CHL. The NAHL is some distance back and their players usually populate lower-tier teams and fourth lines.
USA Hockey's National Team Development Program also plays in the USHL but is a thing apart. They have U17 and U18 teams that play a variety of international tournaments and, for the U18s, a ~30-game schedule of exhibitions against college teams. The U17s draw the majority of USHL games and generally get cranked due to the age gap. The NTDP gets about 80% of the first round NHL draft picks who are headed to college.
Minnesota and New England both have high school hockey that is good enough to produce a lot of recruits, and the NCAA recruits from various non-CHL junior leagues across Canada, the most prominent of which are the BCHL and OPJHL, if the latter is still called that. Per the most recent NCAA data 24% of NCAA hockey is played by "nonresident aliens," the vast majority of whom are Canadian.
One key difference between Canada and the US is that US players will often stick with their junior teams after high school. USHL teams can have players up to 20 and for many teams their answer to recruiting deficiencies is to bring in older and older players. There was a recent kerfuffle when the Big Ten, which generally recruits right out of high school, introduced a proposal to reduce eligibility for players who enter college older than 20. Everyone yelled at them and it was withdrawn.
Level of Play
More variable than the CHL but likely to be better overall. In large part this is due to age. College hockey players are on average much older than CHL players, and now college alums make up about 30% of the NHL. While the CHL has more NHL prospects per team—both leagues have about 60 teams total—the NCAA's are more concentrated, so unless you have a lot of Atlantic Hockey teams on the schedule that gap between future NHLers is smaller. The NCAA also has a significant edge in point equivalencies. Three years is apparently more than enough to bridge the gap in relative NHL draft status.
The Hail To The Victors 2016 Kickstarter slams shut at 3 PM. This is already the most successful year we've ever had, so many of you have already bought the book and various ancillaries. We thank you for that. If you haven't already, you could… you know… do so.
Did you guys really change the cover? No. We did get pinged by compliance about a potential problem with using a guy with eligibility on a Kickstarter so we pulled it—while we look at it as a preorder, it's not worth the bother. Every preview magazine since time began has had an editorial photo on the cover and ours will also.
But you already made your goal. Yes. From your perspective the Kickstarter gives you an opportunity to get things you can't get elsewhere. From our perspective, the Kickstarter tells us about how many to publish and is the most efficient way to exchange goods and services without (much of) a middleman.
But I want multiple shipping addresses. We decided a few years ago that this was not a good idea because getting all these addresses was a cluster and it slowed down everyone's shipping. This is a valid reason for you to not back the Kickstarter.
But I want a stretch goal. If we hit 75,000 I'll call someone a horseface? This is going to happen anyway eventually so it is a bad stretch goal.
Michigan is poised for a major in-state recruiting haul that could include Ambry Thomas [left, Rapai]
When 247 created the industry composite rankings, there was no longer a good reason for me to continue putting together the old Big Ten recruiting rankings posts. In the absence of those, however, I haven't done a great job of providing an overview of conference recruiting in the roundups. This new, recurring feature should rectify that issue—I plan to publish these on a monthly basis.
While it should come as little surprise that Ohio State and Michigan have separated themselves from the pack, the current rankings of the rest of the conference aren't exactly what you'd expect. Via 247, here's how the Big Ten team rankings currently stand:
[After THE JUMP, separating the conference into tiers.]